Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
Marcus has only one core work, which was actually never intended for publication: his Meditations (originally titled “To Himself”). This is not only one of greatest books ever written but perhaps the only book of its kind. It is the definitive text on self-discipline, personal ethics, humility, self-actualization and strength. It proved to be equally inspirational to writers like Ambrose Bierce and Robert Louis Stevenson as he has been for statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt, Wen Jiabao and Bill Clinton.
3 STOIC EXERCISES FROM MARCUS AURELIUS
1. Practice The Virtues You Can Show
It’s easy to succumb to self-pity when we start telling ourselves that we lack certain talents, that we miss stuff that seems to come so easily to other people. We need to catch ourselves when we do so. We need instead to focus on the things that are always within us: our capacity and potential for virtuous action. As Marcus wrote to himself,
“No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted.
All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.”
2. Draw Strength from Others
As discussed earlier, Marcus most likely wrote the notes to himself which are now Meditations on the battlefield, during the last decade of his life. In those times of difficulty and adversity he’d write to himself notes of encouragement, to pick himself back again, to do his duty. One exercise that we can borrow from him is to draw strength from people in our lives or simply role models that inspire us. As he wrote,
“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind.”
3. Focus on The Present
Marcus knew the temptations that exist for all of us to let our imagination run wild envisioning all the ways things can go wrong. Of course, such an exercise can be useful in preparing us for the future and making us ready for adversity, but Marcus well understood that it can become crippling fear that will paralyze us from any useful action. As he put it,
“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.
Then remind yourself that past and future have no power over you. Only the present—and even that can be minimized. Just mark off its limits. And if your mind tries to claim that it can’t hold out against that…well, then, heap shame upon it.”